“Learning to love life by living through loss and mistakes. Lessons learned then gradually surfacing, letting go stripping naked to scream”. “I am not perfect, nor do I strive to be”. “I am alive in this world of face-first falls and public breakdowns”. “I am a retarded disfigured clown dying to be heard for the simple art of letting this heavy wall finally fall”. “I’m an equal being of no race or color, a hallucination if you will, sneaking into the lives of strangers and letting them fall apart to a new rhythm, just to feel better.”
--- Justin Ferstenfeld 2004 Paris on Paper ----
As most people know, many memories are “created” or told to you by someone who was there. I can vividly remember things from as far back as around 2 or 3. I have heard the stories of “this” and “that” from family, but I will only write of those memories I know to be true. From as far back as I can remember, I was a spunky child. I was always the center of attention and always into “something”.
Scattered are those memories of a child, so we’ll start with knowing that my grandma thought the world of me. I can remember staying with her during the days, and I can vividly remember staying the night with her on many occasions. One memory that stands out for me is being at my grandmother’s house and fighting with my cousin over monopoly pieces. The pieces were in a Folgers’s can and I wanted them, but my cousin wasn’t going to let me have them, so I bit her in the arm until she bled. Screaming and crying, she ran to my grandma who quickly scooped me up, and bit me (not until I bled, of course) to show me how much I wouldn’t like to be bitten. My final memory of my grandma, is staying the night at her house, and sleeping on a bed where the mattress kept sliding off of the foundation. My grandma came over to push the mattress back on the bed, and she fell into the splits. Not long after that, my grandma passed away.
I remember that we lived in Arizona for a time. I remember “mama” Suzy. I don’t remember any last name, but I know that I spent a lot of time at Suzy’s house and that I enjoyed being over there. I remember living in a mobile home. I remember flushing a toy truck down the toilet and mom having to call the plumber to fix the toilet.
I remember living in Cottage Hills, Illinois and my dad taking my cousin Tammy to school for her Halloween party, she was dressed like a cat, and my dad getting a ticket for passing a school bus. I remember being at Kutter Park while my Uncles played Softball and being tormented by an older kid for most of the day. Through being told about it, I can vaguely remember taking my mom’s keys from her purse, throwing them under the couch and running across the street naked to my cousin, Tammy’s school. The nickname I had at the time, was Dennis the Menace. I remember my cousin Tammy cleaning house for my parents. She would get to my room, and if she wouldn’t play with me, I would tell her I wasn’t her cousin anymore. I remember Tammy having a friend, Tammy Stewart, who I had a crush on. Tammy Stewart was always my cousin Ricky’s girlfriend, and they are now married.
My parents bought me a “mini” bike and I took it to my Aunt Louise’s house, and as soon as they started the bike for me, I wrecked it into my Aunt’s car. My Uncle Junior loved to drink beer. He would put all sorts of crazy stuff in the beer, and then ask me to taste it. It was, and still is, NASTY! I will never like beer, and I actually thank him for that.
I remember my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Croxford. Mrs. Croxford was a nice lady and a good teacher. She would give put stars by your name for each day you were on your best behavior. I wanted my mom to make me a superman suit, so I had to get stars all week. I was good all week and I got my superman suit. I would put it on under my clothes and run down the street changing into superman. I remember my first “girlfriend” too. Her name was Tally Jean. We were in kindergarten, so it was just a name that we called each other.
Another thing I vividly remember is how close our family was. My Dad and my uncles would play softball games and cards on weekends. The women would cook and talk. The kids would play at the parks all day long. Now, if you look at the family, my parents are in California, and my uncles don’t speak. My Uncle Dave is close again, and that is about the extent. My other uncles are too preoccupied with their own lives to be in my life. I value truth, and as you will read on, you will see that with all the lies that have been in my life, the truth is the one salvation. My Uncle Dave has never lied to my kids or me even once. My uncle Roger flat out lied to my son, and that is why I don’t bother with him, and I don’t want to be sued, so if this is ever published his name will probably be changed. It seems some people make a living off of suing others. My uncle Jim told the same lie and while I am sure his had to do with his health, it was still a lie told to my son, and I don’t have time for those who lie.
My Mother was the first person to lie to me. When I was born, she told my uncles never to disclose to me who my biological father was. I was always told it was a guy who didn’t want me. Imagine being a child and one of your first memories is someone telling you that someone didn’t want you. Well, the truth was, that she was dating a guy who was just out of a relationship and used my mom to make his ex girlfriend jealous. On a date, things went “all the way” and I was created. My mom didn’t tell the guy that she was pregnant. She did put my last name as his on the birth certificate, but never told him anything about me. Whenever I would ask her, she would blow me off and tell me that I always had a dad. Well, at least that part of it wasn’t a lie. Charles Arnel took the job willingly when he and my mother married when I was 2. When I was 7, he adopted me. The judge asked me why I wanted him to adopt me and I told him the only answer, the truth, that he was my dad. Then I went from last in the lunch line to first, because they lined you up alphabetical.
Back to my biological father, I only learned who he really was in 2003. I found out that he also had another son as well. I met his son, Curt and immediately knew that we were related. Curt looked a lot like me, only shorter. We had the same big head and it was like looking at a smaller me. I learned that Donald Troutman had passed away in July of 03. This was the end of December so I discovered things about six moths too late. I did have a chance encounter with him, though, in 1998. My wife’s car had broken down and she had pulled to the side of the road. Apparently she didn’t get it as far off the road as it should be, so it was towed. The man who towed it was Donald Troutman. I didn’t know this, so when I went to pick up the car, I had to leave my driver’s license because I didn’t have any money. If I had only known then, what I know now. I never was deprived of a dad, but it would have been nice to at least know him. That was all I ever really wanted out of it, as no one could take my dad’s place.
Not long after mom and dad got married, we went to California to see my dad’s family. We stayed in a little apartment. The only things I remember about the apartment are my Dad trying on my mom’s swimsuit, and waking up in the middle of the night and starting to walk into their room. When I got to the doorway, I saw 2 bright blue eyes, and it scared me so much that I fell down the stairs. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, my mom was on the couch watching Wonder Woman on TV. We also went to my dad’s aunt’s house. Her name was Aunt Zeither (not sure of the spelling).
Aunt Zeither was not very nice at all. I remember my dad getting locked up for something or another and we had to walk all the way across town to see him and then all the way back because she wouldn’t come get us. I remember her making a cherry pie, and me not wanting any of it, but being forced to eat it. To this day, I hate cherry pie. Aunt Zeither’s house also had spiders. Not normal sized spiders either, but huge spiders. I remember one spider crawling up the wall by my bed that looked like it was made out of bamboo. I never got to get reacquainted with Aunt Zeither; she died when her house caught fire a few years back. I remember meeting my dad’s daughter from a previous marriage. Her name was Shelly. I only remember going to the beach with them and spending the day with her. Unfortunately neither my dad nor I got to spend any more time with her, as she also died in a fire several years ago. The last person I remember meeting was my dad’s ex-wife Charlotte.
Charlotte was still obsessed with my dad. My dad and Charlotte had a son named Charlie. I was told that while I was in daycare Charlotte would call and try to get the caregivers to let her pick me up. I don’t know about this for certain, I was too young. I do remember Charlotte and my mom getting into a war of words and Charlotte hitting my mom in the head with a hoe. A hoe is a garden tool, and it was not used for slang back in those days. We left California not long after that and moved back to Illinois. We lived in a house next door to my uncle Junior and aunt Louise. Their house caught fire, I remember waking up in the nighttime and smelling the fire and seeing the smoke cloud off of the house. Not long after that, we moved into a little house on Sixth Street in Roxana. That is where my first real scare came from.
My parents had company over and they were watching the movie Halloween, and my cousin and I were playing in the floor with some craft stuff. After the movie and the company went home, we all went to bed. Sometime during the night, I heard the scissors opening and closing. It kept getting closer and closer to my bedroom and I was getting more and more frightened. Once the sound got into my room, I ran to my parent’s room and got into their bed, telling them I had heard a gunshot. When we got up the next morning, I found the scissors at the foot of my bed. It was a little more than creepy, but no one believed me. Only a couple years ago, when my story hadn’t changed in 20 years have they finally believed that there may have been a ghost in that house. That encounter wouldn’t be the last I would have with what I believe to be ghosts, but we’ll get to that later. I had an obsession with Freddy Fender and his music. I had his 8 track tape, and made my mom and dad play it in their car everywhere we went. I knew all the songs in English and even the Spanish lyrics. One night I wanted to take the tape into the bath with me, and my parents let me. I didn’t know it at the time but they knew it would ruin the tape. I also remember a car lot at the top of ninth street hill. At the lot, they had a “Batmobile” replica car. I wanted that car so bad. I always said when I was old enough I would have that car, well, when I moved back several years later, the car and the lot were both gone.
We soon moved to Apopka, Florida and I knew no one, so I would do almost anything for attention, especially the wrong type of attention. In school I would be on my best behavior (ha ha) and at home I would find trouble anywhere. Though more mischief than anything, I would run the neighborhood looking for something to get into. I would take the Girl Scout cookies that my mom bought and re-sell them for a quarter or a dollar a box. I would rent out my Atari games to my friends. I would charge people to swim in my pool (it was the first pool in the neighborhood, so there was money was to be made). I had a four-wheeler and I would charge people for a ride on it. One of my most memorable schemes was Halloween 84, when colored hair spray came out. My Dad bought me a can of every color that they had available, and I charged a quarter per spray to anyone who wanted some color in their hair. I had half the neighborhood lined up down the block to be sprayed. It was a great idea, and I don’t remember how much money I made that day, but it was quite a bit. Then after bleeding all the money I could get, I would go to the local ice cream shop and play video games. My favorite video games at the time were, Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, Kangaroo, Joust, Mr. Doo, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. When I wasn’t at the arcade, I would be at the video store. The clerks there would let me watch movies whenever I came in. I would mostly watch 2 movies, Purple Rain and the Thriller video. As for grades, in school I almost always got straight A’s. I would be the first one done with all of my work, and then I would get into trouble disrupting others from getting their work done. My teachers all said the same thing; I was a great student, except for the talking. I loved to talk, and I loved to talk to people when I was supposed to be quiet. I learned to write in cursive mainly from my mom, so my handwriting was always pretty. I could write prettier than most girls. I figure, if you like to write, someone might as well be able to read what you have written.
A cool thing about Florida was that there were plenty of entertainers who came. Michael Jackson came there once to film a commercial at a local mall. I saw him walking with about 3 bodyguards and I asked him if he was Michael Jackson, he said he wasn’t, but it was. You will never mistake Michael Jackson. Michael got back together with his brothers to make an album, and they did a concert in Florida. For promotional purposes, they flew around in a hot air balloon. They actually flew over my neighborhood, right over my house. I got a wave, and a quick hello, before they were out of sight. I idolized Michael Jackson; I even got my hair permed so it would look more like his. I would wear the parachute pants, penny loafers, shiny socks and the one glove. I thought I was something in those clothes, and no matter what temperature it was outside, I would get all dressed up in the clothes and prance around the neighborhood.
I loved to sing also. I would sing with the radio every time a song came on that I knew. My favorites were “Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate our Home”, and “Nobody”. I could almost tell when the songs would come on. I would start singing them, and then it seemed like they would always be one of the next songs played on the radio.
One of the reasons I kept my grades up was the money I got for having good grades. I would get $20 for every “A” that I got on a report card. I also had to keep my room clean and do a couple other chores to get an allowance, which was $20 a week. Back then, $20 was a lot of money, as you could get into more than one movie, play a lot of video games, and buy cassettes, and even afford an Atari game.
My Mom had an accounting firm in Apopka and she was at work a lot in her building getting things in order, and we were doing pretty good, or so I thought. Maybe a year later, the building was broken into and a lot of things were stolen. I always understood that it was her business partner Harold that had something to do with it, but in later years I wondered what really happened. One of my uncles had come down to visit us, but we had already moved, and when he called the police to ask how to find us, they wanted to know how he knew my mom, and they wanted him to come in for questioning. I don’t know what it was all about, but I’m sure it wasn’t good. While her business was open though, I remember she had a lot of women working for her. One was blonde and really pretty. I went to her house a couple times while my parents went out for the night. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her apartment. Another lady that she had working for her had a son named Scotty and he and I were good friends. I can remember lots of times Scotty and I would ride bikes into the woods and do jumps and tricks on our bikes. Scotty had a cousin named Missy and she would be there a lot too. We had another friend named Amy, who was around a little. I remember Amy being very cute, but we were only 7 or 8. Another girl that hung around a lot was a girl named Julia.
Julia had an older sister and her older sister had a dirty mind. I remember one day everyone in the neighborhood being gone and Julia had come over to my house. We were playing in my room and her sister walked down the street past the house, and told her mom that she saw us in my bed. I was only 7 or 8, so that wasn’t the case. Julia wasn’t allowed to come over for a long time after that, though. Another person I remember was a kid by the name of John Williams.
John was a bully in every sense of the word. He would try to beat me up after school and he would chase me home a lot. My Dad told me that if I stood up to him, he would stop, so one day that’s what I did. I was running, and then I decided I couldn’t run anymore. I stopped, but John didn’t. I swung and hit him in the stomach and he hit the ground. I got on top of him and punched him until I was too tired to punch. John never chased me home after that. In fact, he wanted to be my friend. A girl lived at the end of the block from me and her name was Jamie.
Jamie lived in an abusive household. You could stand outside my house and hear her dad yelling at her from about three houses down. Jamie would sometimes come up to my house right before bedtime just to tell me good night. I felt sorry for her but what can a kid do? I did take four beer bottles from his garage and put one under each tire of his car. I remember getting up the next day and going outside waiting for him to leave, so I could see if it worked or not. I heard the bottles break and him cuss and yell, and I ran inside laughing. I don’t think it flattened his tires but it was great nonetheless. I had a friend named Michael Carrol too.
Michael’s Dad was in Germany and Mike lived with his mom and older brother. Michael had gotten a hold of some throwing stars, and we were throwing them in the woods. Michael got this wild idea to throw them at a car’s tire while they were driving. Michael didn’t want to be the one to do it, but we chastised him enough that he finally did it. The star hit the tire, and the car stopped, and called the cops. Michael got into so much trouble that his mom sent him to Germany to live with his dad. Another person who affected my life was Pamela.
Pamela was a little girl that my parents were going to adopt. Her parents were friends of my parents and it seemed like the right thing to do. Pamela was about the prettiest little girl you ever had seen. I loved Pamela instantly. I wanted her to be my sister and my parents treated her like she was our own. Pamela’s parents milked my parents for all they could get, and then they decided not to let us adopt her. That was a very painful time for all of us. I never loved anyone before, other than my parents until Pamela came around. Once she was in my life, I wanted to protect her and help her grow. I have no idea exactly how old she would be now, or where she would be, but I think about her a lot and hope her life is good.
Another great friend I had at that time was Sandy. Sandy was my dog. I found her in a mall pet shop, and I had to have her. She was an American Eskimo dog. I saw the price tag on her, and thought it was $20. When my parents went to look at her, it was $200. Not wanting to disappoint, they bought her and we took her home. Sandy would run and play all the time, and she would even get into the pool and swim with my friends and me. When my parents knew we were moving, they gave her to a friend of theirs.
There were a couple girls that I liked that were in my neighborhood. One girl named Kimberly, lived around the block from me. I didn’t know any better, and I wrote her a note. Well, the note was really me just copying the lyrics to a Prince song called “Darling Nikki”. I had no idea what the lyrics meant, until I went to her house to see if she could come outside, and her mom read me the “riot act”. I was so embarrassed. Another girl I liked was a girl named Teresa. Teresa was a little older than me, so I was always trying to impress her. One day, she had gotten into a fight with her younger sister and she wanted to get her into trouble. She told me she would kiss me if I told her dad that her little sister had been swearing. Not knowing any better, I told her dad and he came out and started screaming at the girl. Teresa was saying that her sister was cussing, but I had never heard cussing called swearing. When her dad asked me just what the girl had said, I said, “She was saying, I swear to God.” Well, her little sister didn’t get in trouble and I didn’t get my kiss. L
At Christmas time there was a house that had an amazing light display. It was across town from where we lived, but we would make the walk or ride to the house to see what they had. There was a big tree in their backyard that had a sleigh on top circling the top, and smurfs around the base. In Between there were various themes and lights. It was like nothing I have ever seen before or again.
I also loved to watch scary horror movies. My friends and I would pile up in the living room and turn out all the lights. Mom would turn 1 lamp on and read. We would take turns sneaking out of the house to scare her. We would knock on the side of the house, or the window and wait for her come and we would jump out at her to hear her scream. It was a great time for us, probably not for her.
Mom had a mo-ped that she didn’t ride; it was more of an impulse buy. I rode it around the neighborhood all the time. I even got the nerve to ride it around town one day. I was going pretty good until I got pulled over by the cops. The officer followed me home and I got into trouble. I had a pretty good bike, too. I could ride wheelies and do all sorts of tricks on it. One day I was riding a wheelie and the front wheel came off. I crashed and burned on the street and cut my hands up pretty good. I had a skateboard but I didn’t ever really learn to do many tricks on it. I could flip up on it, and do a 360, but that was about it. Most of our days were spent at the schoolyard hanging on the bars or swinging on the swings. I loved to jump out of the swings and the higher the better. I would also do cherry bombs and other flips off of the bars. There were several neighborhood boys that I hung out with at the time. Robby, Shawn, Charlie, Michael and several others. Robby was my next-door neighbor and my best friend. We were together everyday. If I was into trouble, Robby was probably into it too.
Robby had a weird situation at home. His dad and mom were divorced and his mom was seeing a guy named Dave. All three of them lived together in one house. Robby’s sister, Michelle was my babysitter. Robby’s house had a room that hadn’t been finished yet, and was off of the main part of the house. We would go in there and look at his dad’s dirty magazines. Everything I did and everywhere I went you could count on seeing Robby.
It was during this time that I started listening to Prince. This is important, because as you read further, Prince’s music was a soundtrack to my life. I first saw him on MTV with his “When Doves Cry” video. I was hooked. I got the Purple Rain soundtrack album, and then every album that was out before that. The songs were a little rock, a little pop, a little punk, and a lot dirty. Being a kid, I loved the dirty songs the most. Prince was singing about sex, and many the different ways you could have it. I had a babysitter at the time, Michelle, who was a teenager and she was very pretty. She would put on the Prince albums and sing those lyrics and I would ask her what they meant. Songs like “Head” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” would come on and the lyrics were very risqué to say the least. When the Purple Rain movie was released, I went every weekend, sometimes both Friday and Saturday nights to see the movie. I can recite almost line for line every word in the movie.
I also had cable in my room. HBO, Cinemax and Mtv were really the only premium channels but back then, HBO and Cinemax would show “dirty” movies late nights and they didn’t leave very much to the imagination. Nowadays, those same movies would be considered soft-core pornography. Mtv was actually a music video channel. There were no shows on Mtv. It was all music videos 24 hours a day. It was my favorite channel. Being a kid and exposed to adult material and music is probably the reason that I was so advanced in my thinking and the reason I liked girls at an earlier age than most kids now. Now, I keep things hidden from my kids. I want to keep as much of the “real world” out as possible and let them be kids. When my baby sitter would go out of town with her family she would get one of her friends to sit for me. One summer, one of her friends took me to a place called Rock Springs Park. Rock Springs Park was a great place to go to swim and be in the water. There was a big pool and a water trail that had caves you could walk into. I wasn’t paying attention to the change in depth at the pool, and I went under very fast. I thought I was going to drown, and no one was coming to help. I opened my eyes and some how made my way over to a ladder and climbed out. My babysitter didn’t even pay attention to the fact that I was in the water, let alone drowning. Neither did the lifeguards. This same sitter had her boyfriend come over while my parents were at work, which was a huge no-no. I was outside with my friends and we went into the house and found her and her boyfriend naked on the couch, the new white couch that my parents had just bought. That was her last day. Another one of the substitute sitters was really cool. She was older and pretty and would swim with me and hang out. It was a lot like having a big sister there. She would watch MTV with me and listen to the Prince albums, and allow me to watch my favorite movies over and over again.
I was also very fortunate to have parents who made a lot of money. My dad was always a hard working mechanic, and my mom was great with numbers and worked as an accountant. I was afforded almost everything I ever wanted. We could go to the local mall and I could go to any store and take the merchandise out of the store, find my parents to see if I could get it. The reason they would allow that, is they knew me and they knew if I asked for it, I would most-likely get it. I had all of the latest styles at the time; Parachute pants, high top shoes with bright colored laces, bandannas wrapped around the wrist, and a Thriller or Beat It jacket. With that style of clothing you had to have a “ghetto blaster” boom box. You needed that so you could play the newest music of the time, which was rap. Rap was just starting out, and it hadn’t gotten to the point of cussing and killing people. It was just fun, talking about how they had the skill of rhyme and bigger jewelry than the next person and how they were so “bad”. To quote my favorite rappers at the time, Run D.M.C. “Not bad meaning bad, but bad being GOOD!”
I had a linoleum pad we used to break dance on. You needed that to do back spins, and the faster you could back spin, the harder people tried to be better than you. One thing we would do, to get all the latest moves, is to watch the break dance movies that were out at that time; Breakin’, Breakin’ 2, Beat Street and Rappin’. With those movies, we had the soundtracks so we were not only doing the latest dances, but we were doing them to the same music as the dancers in the movie. I was always one of the best break-dancers in my neighborhood. I had a linoleum pad that I would put down, everyone else used cardboard, and I would turn up the music and just go. I could spin on my back, on my hand and I could do all of the moves. The only dance I couldn’t do was the head spin. Several of the neighborhood kids would end up at my house trying to do their best moves, but I practiced mine endlessly, so I could beat them whenever we “battled”. My favorite television show at the time was called “Puttin’ on the Hits”. The show was like today’s American Idol, but you just lip synched the songs, the contest was more about dancing the dance and your costume than actual singing talent. Another show was called “Star Search”. This was a show that you had to have talent to be on. You were judged and if you won, you would get to come back every week for four weeks. A lot of today’s popular artists were on Star Search back in those days. But, as all good things do, these times would change, as we moved from Florida to Texas, which was a culture shock. For me it was like moving the city mouse to the country, and I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Webster, Texas was a suburb of Houston. I attended a school there, but found it very hard to make friends. A lot of the kids didn’t like the fact that I was a white kid and listened to “black music” and that I could break dance better than most. It was the first time that I really felt out of place. The teacher I had didn’t seem to like me that much, and only a couple of the kids in my class talked to me. I remember getting a Valentine from one of my classmates that said, “I hate you”. I did manage to have a couple friends from the neighborhood that I lived in. I also had a cousin who was close to my age so it wasn’t all bad. The reason we had moved to Texas was that my Dad’s mom had passed away not long ago, and my Dad wanted to be near his sister, Charlene. Aunt Charlene was a nice woman, but also a very opinionated woman, who would speak her mind, even if she weren’t asked to. One example of this was at the local mall. My mom had gotten me a Voltron set, which was all metal. The set cost around $80, because it was the complete set. When my mom paid for it, Aunt Charlene went on a tirade about how that was too much money to be spending on a toy for a kid. Mom quickly put her in her place and they didn’t talk much after that. It seemed that they had a silent understanding that Aunt Charlene didn’t like mom, and mom didn’t like Aunt Charlene. A few weeks later, though, both of our vehicles were repossessed. What was so weird about it was that the car was taken one weekend, and the very next weekend the truck was gone too. Mom said they were stolen, and that was the story that was kept up until we moved a short time later to Harrison, Arkansas.